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6 myths that are driving up fleet costs

Jan. 13, 2012
During a webinar hosted by GE Capital Fleet Services (GECFS) yesterday, several experts debunked a set of six hoary yet still-persistent myths about truck fleet decision-making

During a webinar hosted by GE Capital Fleet Services (GECFS) yesterday, several experts debunked a set of six hoary yet still-persistent myths about truck fleet decision-making. At the outset, moderator Greg Wilson, truck product leader for GECFS, said these myths, by and large, result in lost productivity and lost revenue as well as negatively impacting driver/employee retention. What’s more, he added they can cause vehicle acquisition and operating costs to rise unnecessarily and can severely ding vehicle resale values.

Myth No. 1 was described as under-engineering a truck can save money on fuel. The translation, observed Wilson, is buying the cheapest possible truck. But that is not at all the way to go, said Mark Stumne, truck engineer for GECFS.

“The idea is not to go for the lowest-powered engine—which won’t save fuel if it is constantly run up against the governor— but to first match your truck specs to the business need that must be met by the vehicle,” he explained. “From there, the fleet can shop those specs around for the best price. The right truck specs will save on fuel, maintenance and downtime; will reduce driver turnover; and yield better remarketing results later.”

Collin Reid, GECFS strategic consultant, added that “under-spec’ing the truck will come out in higher maintenance costs, especially for brakes, and fuel economy will suffer as will driver productivity” from giving them less truck than they need for the job.

Myth No. 2 is that trucks are not impacted by small changes in payload (after they are spec’d, built and delivered). “Payload changes can potentially overload a vehicle or greatly affect the weight distribution of the truck/body package,” stated Tim Craft, president of TiNik Inc., which supplies truck/van-related equipment to both fleets and OEMs. “Changes in payload and equipment added to handle it may also interfere with existing upfits on the body.” He noted a common problem area in the vehicle-ordering process is when a fleet wants to switch from dual to single rear axles, “when that’s done, something has to give on weight.”

According to Stumne, it’s important to bear in mind that the new emissions technology mounted on trucks has severely limited the “real estate” on the frame rails for adding equipment on vocational trucks. “PTO clearances have been limited,” he noted. “And all these things—DEF tanks, etc.—have added weight.” He recommended that once a fleet has modified a spec, that they do a load study of the weight—especially on the front axles—before proceeding.

Myth No. 3 holds that truck selection does not affect employee productivity and retention. That’s far from true, said Stumne, who advised that even when a trucking company has to do more with less, they still have to get the most productivity, and safely so, out of their drivers. “A properly outfitted truck will be safer for driver entry/egress and will allow for ease of use of [vocational] truck equipment.” He added that it’s a simple fact that both overall truck design and performance attributes can be major factors in improving driver retention.

Craft pointed out that different truck-body features can be selected to make the drivers’ work easier and safer, such as drop-down ladder racks. He noted that driver productivity and satisfaction can be improved by even simple measures. “You can have too much product on a [vocational] truck and that can hurt productivity” as the driver will spend too much time searching for the inventoried item or tool he needs.

Myth No. 4 is that diesel is always the preferred power choice. “Due to the higher cost of diesel engines equipped with emissions technology,” said Stumne, some fleets are evaluating other power options. When doing so, he advised that operating costs and resale value be considered. Also, if contemplating alternative fuels, be sure to look down that avenue thoroughly, especially regarding availability in the fleet’s operating areas. Towing is another consideration—do the loads to be pulled require the torque capability of a diesel over a gasoline engine?

Myth No. 5 is that any size trailer can be pulled as long as it does not exceed the truck’s posted GCW rating. “You have to know the actual total weight of the truck/tractor and the trailer to compare it to the trucks’ GCWR,” said Stumne. “You also need the right equipment to match up with the given trailer, including hitch height, brakes and lights, and you must comply with local, state and, if applicable, federal rules” regarding load limits on roads and bridges. “Also,” he added, “your driver may need a different license—a CVDL—and the truck may need a different plate” depending on the weight being hauled.

According to Craft, it’s also key to take into account the placement of the cargo in the trailer to ensure proper weight distribution. “And you must pay attention to state and DOT regs for cargo securement.”

Myth No. 6 suggests that the longer a fleet can cycle their trucks the better. “That,” said Reid, “is not necessarily so as running a truck into the ground may well be more costly in the long run. When a truck gets to be 10 or 15 years old, the main focus becomes responding to emergencies and building up maintenance infrastructure to prevent them. As trucks age, maintenance costs increase dramatically as does frequency of repair. That results in more downtime, which erodes profits. He added that the company or brand image conveyed by the trucks may be hurt as well.

Not being taken in by these six myths “all comes down to analyzing the complete trucking operation,” noted moderator Wilson.

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